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Trip Report A Heathrow Tale: Connecting Terminals without Codeshare Ticket

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We had not flown through London since 1998. We probably have flown to Europe from the US at least twice a year since then. Every destination airport is a bit different, but patterns remain. And If someone brings up Paris CDG here, I could write a User's Manual. But Heathrow and Gatwick are far out of my ken.

So I'm going to relate what happens if you've booked your own non-codeshare flights.

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    Our Entry and Connection through Heathrow

    A few weeks ago, I posted a question on this board:
    Could I use the Heathrow Terminal 1 to Terminal 5 bus WITHOUT going through Passport Control first even though I did not technically have a codeshare ticket? We would NOT have any checked luggage--we would arrive with US Airways correct carry-on that we would reduce somehow (thinking Scottevest) to BA correct carry-on.
    (For my original post, see http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/help-lhr-transfer-must-i-hit-passport-control-first.cfm)

    I was out of my mind with worry.

    --We were to arrive on a US Airways flight way, way at the end of Terminal 1.
    --We would then take a British Airways flight at Terminal 5.
    --We had three hours to connect, but I found out after booking that our flight was perpetually late--and our following BA flight rarely was.

    Add in the 90 minutes Heathrow recommends for connections between these two terminals, and we could have a nightmare.

    And to make matters worse, this specific BA flight only left on THIS day of the week from Heathrow. Let's add another layer of worry--our cycling trip left our destination hotel at 9 a.m. the next day.

    We either made this next flight or our life would be utter woe.

    I had studied the pertinent page of the EXCELLENT Heathrow website carefully (http://www.heathrowairport.com/heathrow-airport-guide/flight-connections/terminal-1-international-connecting-to-terminal-5-international ). As one could see, that part about how we were NOT technically a flight connection was sort of left to no-answerville.

    I contacted BA by phone, and then I gave up for a bit. Why? Few BA phone response people could register my BA confirmation code, let alone my question. Lots of outsourcing on BA.

    I then wrote at least two emails to BA with specifics. I received answers days later with lovely responses to questions I had not asked. And basically, any meaningful response was that we would go through Passport Control first before we could change terminals. Plus both responses added that should we miss the outgoing flight, our return would be automatically cancelled.

    So helpful.

    I then asked my question on this forum and got varied responses. I think some people thought I was questioning going through security again (NOT!). Others confidently told me I MUST go through Passport Control. But a few others did tell me that they could see not reason why I could not a) take the bus and if there was any problem with the luggage size, I could b) drop it off at a BA desk before I hit security at Terminal 5.

    In the midst of reading responses, I tried once again to phone BA. Using a technique I had employed to deal directly with Turkish Airlines last year, I now called and hung up over and over until I got one young man with a command of the English language who could also understand "American" (and no, I'm not from the South OR New Jersey). He said that he had never been asked my question before, but he said that he did not see why I could not just follow the connection signs. He did ask if I could have a boarding pass in hand (yes, I could--BA had finally allowed 24-hr check-in). Well, he said, I think this could work. "Unorthodox but logical", he said. I could have kissed him.

    Interestingly enough, on our arrival on US Airways, our flight attendants passed out Fast Track passes. I asked, "Well, we're going on another flight from Heathrow, so I'm assuming we will not be going through Passport Control" The attendant said, "Well, you MUST go through Passport Control first." My husband and I thanked her and then whispered to each other, "Remember, we are NOT doing that."

    Luck was with us. We disembarked, trudged the 1/2 mile+ to turn left to the connecting bus turn and did NOT go right to go through Passport Control.

    We obtained a Terminal 5 to Terminal 1 bus within 5 minutes of getting to the doors. No one checked to see if we had a boarding pass--it's just not essential. Upon entering Terminal 1, we saw a huge line to the left to get up the escalator to departures. We just took the elevator straight ahead (no one on it).

    On the next floor, sure enough, if we had needed to get a boarding pass or check our luggage, we could have done it around here.

    But we needed nothing. We and our luggage were checked out by the Ready to Fly people at the first checkpoint. By then any bulk in our backpacks had been absorbed by our Scottevests and we were sterling.

    As we were flying BA Club Europe, we had Fast Track for security.

    But here's the luck part--our US plane had landed early. Its landing on time or before does not happen, believe me. The day before, that flight was two hours late. Because it landed early, we managed to hit security at the exact time there were no lines but also when it was fully staffed. We were through it within five minutes.

    We had a lovely hour to spare in the BA lounge.

    So the first lesson is...
    If you arrive at one terminal and have booked by yourself another immediate flight out of another terminal at Heathrow, you CAN use the connecting terminal buses without going through Passport Control first!

    The second lesson is...
    Do check the on-time record of any flight before you complete your booking!

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    The main requirement - NO CHECKED LUGGAGE.

    If you have it and you can't persuade the first airline to check it through then you have no option but to go through immigration, collect luggage, go through customs, check luggage in.

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    Our Return through Gatwick.
    Getting to Heathrow.


    I had thought about this long and hard. We had to return through Gatwick and then over the course of 36 hours get to Heathrow. We would arrive late on one night, have one day to spare, and would leave from Heathrow at 9 am that following day.

    Although the board here had recommended Victoria Station as my stay (easy to get to from Gatwick and then a zip out to Heathrow), I knew I was NOT a morning person. And my husband knows I'm not a morning person.

    So we decided to bite the bullet and transfer from Gatwick to the Heathrow Sofitel right away. We figured if we were adventurous, we could make our way into London from Heathrow the next day. If we were not, we could sleep. We had had quite an adventurous trip already, so being active was not a priority.

    So the question was--how would we get there?
    Once we ruled out London and any tube transport, our choices were the National Express Coach (50 pounds for the two of us) or a taxi (91 pounds for the two of us).

    Our plane was late, so at midnight we just headed for the Gatwick taxi desk and took the cab. It took 45 minutes or less to get there without traffic, and we were dropped directly at the Sofitel (which we really liked, by the way).

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    alessandrazoe - i never saw your first thread/s.

    if I had done, my main comment would have been that I have never been asked for a boarding pass on any sort of land-side airport bus. anywhere. You might be meeting people off another flight, taking an airport tour, or be a homeless person wanting to get out of the rain. They don't care.

    it is however surprising that in these days of booking flights on line, this hasn't been raised before.

    so glad you made your onward flight. your advice to check on the on-time record of any flight you are booking where there is a connection is a good one. We had the same issue on our recent trip to Australia - we had 3 hours after landing Brisbane from HK to make our connection onto a domestic flight with a different airline to Cairns. It never even occurred to me that I could check the punctuality record of the inward flight; in the event it was if anything slightly early, and we were through immigration and customs in about 45 minutes, giving us plenty of time to check in and transfer to the domestic terminal by bus.

    fortunately in our case there would have been alternative flights, albeit they would probably have come at a price.

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    alanRow:
    You are SO right! And even though I kept saying to all parties, "We will not check luggage," it's as though it never registered.

    One of the reasons we never check luggage on the way out (we sometimes do on the way back) is that things happen. Planes have mechanical failure, snow storms strike, workers strike.

    Should you need to switch flights, if you have all your goods with you (and if you know what "packing light" actually means, which does not mean bring more goods than allowed by the airline), you are a total "Flexible Flyer".

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    unlike you, AZ, we had checked luggage so that had the capacity to hold us up further, though in the event we got through baggage reclaim and customs quite quickly, despite being required to line up with our luggage behind us while the Aussie sniffer dogs tried to find illicit substances [meat, honey, fruit] in our bags. fortunately they weren't interested in us, though a french couple who had been on the same flight as us were made to stay behind - for all I know, they are still there!

    as a matter of interest, how do you check a flight's punctuality record?

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    Sort of off topic...

    Serendipity--Our Day in London
    As indicated above, we had no clue if we'd spend any time touring in London. We had spent a week in London in 1998; my husband and I as teens had spent at least a week there in our younger years. And our energy was flagging.

    However, I remembered I had been "V&A" deprived in 1998. My kids, who were born museum rats, were not as intrigued by the V&A as I. And I felt it calling to me.

    We left the Sofitel, walking over the connecting bridge to the Piccadilly Line tube. We knew NOTHING about the fare system. But when we approached the ticket machine, we saw that we could obtain on this Sunday morning an £8.90 zones 1-6 Travelcard.

    Perfect!

    We headed to the V&A, after which my husband apologized for allowing our children to dictate leaving the museum all those years ago. He wants to go back!

    Since V&A has WiFi, we sat in its very good cafe and looked up "London Xmas Lights" on my smartphone (still in Airplane Mode). Web entries recommended Regent Street, right on our Piccadilly Line.

    Off we went.

    The day was cold but sunny and crisp. We totally enjoyed walking up to Oxford Station and back. We stopped for a few beers on our return to Piccadilly Circus, and the couple who shared out table told us to go to Covent Garden and then hit Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We were in for sure--both stops were on our Piccadilly Line.

    We enjoyed all the buskers in Covent Garden (wow--what a change from my youth), had a few beers and a bit to eat, and then headed back towards Hyde Park.

    We walked the extent of Winter Wonderland, a Hyde Park tradition that started in 2007. What fun! The Sunday night, Dec 22nd crowd was as packed as the one we encountered New Year's Even in Paris 1999.

    We think we got our money's worth for our less than £18 pounds.

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    Annhig--Funny story about the French travelers.

    There are several websites that will tell you on-time statistics for flights. Two of them are:
    --FlightStats http://www.flightstats.com/go/FlightRating/flightRatingByRoute.do
    --Flight Aware http://flightaware.com/

    I really had never needed this info before. In fact, it was only because I was checking for the relative gates to which we might arrive at Heathrow that I realized we might be in deep doo-doo.

    Airlines are also supposed to provide these statistics, but they tend to bury them on their websites.

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    Heathrow Terminal 5 Sofitel to Heathrow Terminal 1

    We had assumed we were lucky that our US flight had arrived early on our first Heathrow pass-through; our experience in returning CONFIRMED that assumption.

    We knew our flight would be boarding at 8:55 a.m. We assumed we'd have to leave our hotel before 7 a.m. to make everything work. One glitch was that the US Airways website did not allow us to print boarding passes ahead of time, so we knew we'd have to stop at a desk to get the passes PLUS get FastTrack and lounge access passes.

    We left the Sofitel before 7 a.m., taking the walkway bridge to Terminal 5, where we took the elevator down to the Arrivals (tube)level to get the free Heathrow Express to Terminal 1.

    Note: It was quite a walk from the Terminal 1 stop to the actual terminal, so allow time.

    Since we were stopping anyway at a desk for the various passes, we checked our roll-ons, too.

    On to security.

    Now we got to see what a REAL security line was. FastTrack was backed up considerably, although it was still faster than the regular track at that time.

    Everyting worked out. We had a bit of time in the Star Alliance Lounge, but just enough to slurp some expresso and a bit to eat. The trek out to the gate was at least another 1/2 mile.

    Lesson:
    Getting to and around Terminal 1, no matter what and even with people mover walks, requires hiking!

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    I don't think code-sharing has any bearing on this situation. You can buy a single ticket that includes travel segments on multiple airlines whether or not those airlines are alliance or code share partners (newer lo-fare airlines excluded); with that through ticket you are checked in for all segments and are guaranteed to be put on an alternate flight --at no extra cost-- if you miss a connection. Where you'd be up the creek is when segments are purchased separately, so Airline 2 considers you a no-show if your Airline 1flight arrives late.

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    kayd--You are correct. I SHOULD change my terminology.

    More specifically, we did NOT have a THROUGH ticket as written by a travel agent or online engine, although had there been a Star Alliance codeshare, I could have booked that with my miles.

    Explanation: I had used Dividend Miles to fly from the US because I could get a dandy upgrade to Envoy; I purchased my BA segment separately on the BA website.

    FYI: It IS possible to check luggage all the way through if airlines have an agreement that has NOTHING to do with their flying alliances. I think USAir and BA have one; I just didn't need it or want it.

    I do want to emphasize that I never asked BA in person on in email if my first flight was late and I missed theirs would my return flight be cancelled. I already knew that detail.
    How funny that when I spoke to reps or received email replies from reps, they never answered my question(s) but were all very sure without my asking to tell me that if I missed my flight I was, for all intents and purposes, dead on arrival :)

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